Shanghai's dazzling night lights force observatory to relocate

Updated: 2008-01-22 12:42

BEIJING - Shanghai's observatory is not only moving out of town, it is moving to the next province to escape "light pollution" that has made it increasingly difficult to scan the night sky.

The dazzling lights of the metropolitan night sky "have greatly affected our observation and we must find a more appropriate base," Tao Jun, the director of the Optical Astronomy Laboratory of Shanghai Observatory, was quoted by the Shanghai Morning Post as saying.

The observatory has signed an agreement with authorities in Zhejiang Province to establish China's first "night sky protected area" in Tianhuangping, Anji City. Equipment from Shanghai will be moved to two professional astronomical observation rooms and a popular science observation spot will be built there, according to the observatory.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) advised in 1985 that the artificial light background for a world-class observatory should be less than 10 percent, which means the proportion of light pollution should be less than 20.2 percent.

However, as long ago as 1998, a test at the Sheshan observation base of the Shanghai Observatory showed that light pollution was as high as 591 percent, Tao told the newspaper.

"The pollution is even more serious now. Even though we have updated the equipment, the observation is still not satisfactory," he said.

According to Tao, the light pollution in Sheshan led to the failure of China's second-largest optical telescope, whose diameter is 1.56 meters. The observatory has been unable to film some dark objects and has rarely participated in world-class observation projects in recent years.

At an altitude of nearly 1,000 meters, Tianhuangping is an ideal place to observe dark objects. The Shanghai Observatory and Zhejiang authorities have agreed to carry out lighting controls to protect the night sky.

Shanghai Observatory might also situate large optical telescopes in western China, where the air quality is much better. At any rate, no other  equipment will be installed at its Shanghai base.

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